The Atlanta Hawks wasted no time swiping home court advantage from the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, getting out to a 20-point lead by halftime of Game 1 before closing out a tight contest to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Star guard Trae Young continued his remarkable postseason debut, terrorizing the 76ers defence to the tune of 35 points and 10 assists to lead Atlanta to the hard-fought victory.
MORE: Trae Young is rewriting the narrative one win at a time
One of the key storylines heading into this series was how 76ers head coach Doc Rivers would plan to contain the Hawks' prolific playmaker. With Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons and a defensive specialist in Matisse Thybulle as the leading options, it was safe to assume one of those two would take on the responsibility.
"I don't know if (Simmons) will be the primary (defender on Young), but he'll be one of them," Rivers told the media prior to tipoff. Philly Voice's Kyle Neubeck also mentioned that Rivers stated he wanted to throw different looks at Young.
To start Game 1, it was 3-and-D wing Danny Green who drew the assignment.
That ... didn't exactly work.
Young erupted for 25 points and seven assists in the first half alone, scoring on an efficient 8-for-13 from the field, 4-for-7 from 3 and 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
Every time he had the ball in his hands, he was making something happen.
TRAE YOUNG. FEELING IT.- NBA (@NBA) June 6, 2021
He's got 25 points at the half.
3Q of Game 1 underway on ABC. pic.twitter.com/68hS95NaJd
According to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry, 19 of Young's 25 points in the first half came against Green as the primary defender.
Scoring or assisting on 42 of his team's 74 first-half points, it quickly became clear an adjustment was needed if the 76ers were going to get back into the game - or, perhaps, even keep their title hopes alive beyond this series.
To start the second half, Rivers not only put Simmons on Young, he elected to have the 76ers hard trap him on all pick-and-rolls and any time he got to the second level of the floor to try and get the ball out of his hands.
At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, Simmons has the size, length and speed to make life difficult for the smaller Young. The hard traps allowed the Aussie guard to defend Young as physically and aggressively as he pleased, knowing help would be on the way if he got by.
This is where Ben Simmons can have an impact on Trae Young. Navigating screens, recovering. He slides under at the last second, looks to stay attached, Young still gets to his floater in space but it's not *as* in rhythm. pic.twitter.com/ExRRki6WGo- Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 6, 2021
After the game, when Simmons was asked if he thinks he'll become the primary defender on Young in Game 2, he wanted the challenge, "I probably will do that, I want to do that."
Once Simmons went to the bench, it was Thybulle who took on the task of trying to shut off Young. His quickness and energy took a toll on the guard, displaying another potential option for Rivers to utilize in this series moving forward.
Even with these "answers," Young was still too good to be completely bottled up. But these defensive changes allowed the 76ers to make a second-half comeback, putting a scare into the Hawks by cutting their 26-point lead to just two in the final minute of the game.
With Young only scoring 10 points after halftime, shooting 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3 while tallying just three assists, Philadelphia seems to have found a solution to get back into this series.
That solution is Simmons putting his best strength to the test against one of the hottest offensive players in the NBA today.
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